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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 02:54 GMT
Congress tackles airport security
Airport scanner
Airport security was heavily criticised after 11 September
The US House of Representatives has backed a new bill to tighten airport security checks in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks.

The measures, backed by President George W Bush, will set stricter standards for private security firms, but will not make baggage screeners government employees - as the Senate had wanted.


The American people deserve tough security standards

George W Bush
The vote came as the governor of California warned of possible bomb attacks on the state's major bridges.

And in another move designed to strengthen US laws, President Bush has proposed making it a crime to buy, build or acquire biological weapons for terrorist attacks.

There has been broad criticism of lax airport security in the US, following the hijackers which enabled the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Richard Gephardt
Gephardt was worried about possible delay
Under the planned airport security law, the government will be in charge of training screeners, air marshals will fly on commercial flights and cockpit doors will be secure.

Now the House and Senate versions of the legislation will go to a committee stage for further discussion.

But some congressmen fear that vital security moves could be delayed.

"My greatest fear is that if it goes to a conference, it never comes out," said House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt.

California threat

On Thursday California Governor Gray Davis said he had received "credible" information that major bridges in the state - including the Golden Gate Bridge - could be targeted for attack.


The best preparation is to let the terrorists know we know what you're up to, we're ready, it's not going to succeed

Governor Gray Davis
He said that information "from several different sources" spoke of a possible attempt to blow up the bridges during the rush hour between 2 and 7 November.

Security was tightened at all four bridges, but Mr Gray's spokesman later said that the governor had only learned of "a possible threat to bridges in the western states".

Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was said to be at risk
Mr Davis mentioned the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in San Francisco, the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles and the Coronado Bridge in San Diego as being under threat.

But his spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said these had merely been examples of the sorts of bridges to which the threat could apply.

There are no plans to close the bridges.

A spokeswoman at the US Justice Department in Washington said the warning was one of many that FBI officials had issued around the country since 11 September, adding that there was no specific reason to give this one more weight.

Clampdown

Hazmat team
Precautions against anthrax are still strict
As well as proposing to make trading in biological weapons for terrorist attacks a crime, President Bush also recommended that the United Nations should devise a means to investigate suspected biological warfare attacks.

The move - a proposed strengthening of the 1972 UN Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention - appears to be a reversal of policy for the White House, which was reluctant to back international treaties before 11 September.

Anthrax spreads
17 confirmed infections
4 deaths (2 in Washington DC, 1 each in Florida and New York)
6 ill with inhalation anthrax
7 cases skin anthrax
13,300 postal workers taking antibiotics as protective measure
It came as the US Food and Drug Agency announced that four of its mail rooms in Washington had tested positive for anthrax during preliminary tests.

If confirmed, the finding would make the FDA the latest branch of the US Government to be affected by anthrax.

The disease has also been discovered at a mail processing facility in Kansas City, Missouri - the first incidence in the Midwest.

Airline nose
New security measures could restore public confidence in flying
Postal facilities in New Jersey, New York and Washington have already been hit by the bacteria and traces of anthrax in several federal buildings have interrupted the work of America's executive, legislative and judicial powers:

  • Traces of anthrax have been found in a mailbag at the US embassy in Lithuania, the first case of its kind in Europe
  • White House mail is in quarantine
  • Congressional offices have been sealed with staff having to work from temporary offices around the city
  • Supreme Court judges are convening elsewhere for the first time in the court building's 66-year history
  • The State Department has cut off mail to 240 embassies and consulates worldwide

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"The bridges are vital economic arteries"
The BBC's David Willis on the Golden Gate Bridge
"Security here is very tight"
See also:

31 Oct 01 | Americas
US steps up nuclear security
30 Oct 01 | Americas
Sitting ducks on NY underground?
01 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bombing to go on during Ramadan
01 Nov 01 | Europe
Anthrax in Lithuania US embassy
02 Nov 01 | Health
Warning over anthrax antibiotics
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